Google Employees Are Getting Organized
January 5, 2021
The Good News
- Why I’m feeling hopeful about the environment in 2021 (BBC)
- Oncologist erases medical debt for nearly 200 of his patients (The Hill)
“The respect for human rights, essential if we are to use technology wisely, is not something alien that must be grafted onto science. On the contrary, it is integral to science, as also to scholarship in general.” — John Charles Polanyi
“Unions are about the collective leverage, the power of numbers versus the power of capital.” — Kevin O’Leary (aka Mr. Wonderful)
“It’s jarring to live in a world where every person feels his life will only get better when you came from a world where many rightfully believe that things have become worse. And I’ve suspected that this optimism blinds many in Silicon Valley to the real struggles in other parts of the country. So I decided to move home to Ohio.” — J.D. Vance
Google Employees Are Getting Organized, Just Not Alphabet-ically
(Kenzo Tribouillard via Getty Images)
After years of trying and difficult, furtive labor, a Silicon Valley tech giant has finally given birth — to a bouncing baby union. On Monday, more than 225 Google engineers and other employees announced the arrival of their newborn, named Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) after Google’s parent company.
The new kid on the block is a so-called minority union because it represents a fraction of Google’s more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors, and because it doesn’t have bargaining power like a traditional union that can demand an employer come to the contract negotiating table. But as noted by Chewy Shaw, a Google engineer in the San Francisco Bay area and vice chair of AWU’s leadership council, the union is a necessary tool to sustain pressure of management so that workers can force changes on workplace issues. “Our goals go beyond the workplace questions of “Are people getting paid enough?” Our issues are much broader,” he said. Workers who join contribute 1% of their total compensation to fund union efforts.
Silicon Valley is notoriously anti-union — not exactly an ideal environment for growing a little AWU, which is affiliated with its larger cousin, Communications Workers of America. Historically, software engineers and other tech workers have largely kept quiet on societal and political issues. But the Trump presidency, with its discriminatory policies, lawless actions, unethical business decisions, and imploding of protections, has been the perfect Petri dish for culturing a wish for tech workers’ empowerment.
Employees at Amazon, Salesforce, Pinterest, etc. have become more vocal on matters like diversity, pay discrimination, and sexual harassment, but nowhere have the voices been louder than at Google. In 2018 more than 20,000 employees staged a walkout to protest how the company handled harassment claims, while others opposed decisions such as developing artificial intelligence for the Defense Department and providing technology to Customs and Border Protection.
Google’s management, never one to cave to employee organizing, instead began hardening their pushback against ever-increasing demands from workers for policy overhauls on pay, harassment, and ethics. In November 2019 four activists were summarily fired, sending tremors throughout the workforce. The company continued clamping down on dissent, scaling back opportunities for employees to grill their bosses, imposing a tough new set of workplace guidelines, even hiring a consulting firm specializing in union blocking and busting.
Nevertheless, persistence paid off, and there’s no putting the chick back into the shell. And even if the union ratchets up tensions between Google software engineers and the company’s management under CEO Sundar Pichai, one California law professor calls the union a “powerful experiment” for what it’s accomplished. “If it grows — which Google will do everything they can to prevent — it could have huge impacts not just for the workers but for the broader issues that we are all thinking about in terms of tech power in society,” she said.
Ma Goes MIA
(Wang He via Getty Images)
- The billionaire founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, hasn’t been seen in public for more than two months. Social media is fueling speculation over the whereabouts of China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, last heard from in late October when he blasted Beijing’s regulatory system in a speech at a forum in Shanghai.
- The tirade put him on a collision course with Chinese regulators who launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba that resulted in the suspension of a $37 billion IPO of Alibaba’s Ant Group fintech arm.
- Ant was ordered to restructure its lending and other consumer finance businesses, including the creation of a separate holding company to meet capital requirements. On Monday Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell 2.15%. (Reuters)
The Enriched Get En-Richer
- An Iranian government spokesman told state media Monday that the country resumed the enriching of uranium to 20% purity at its underground Fordo plant. Enriched uranium can be used to make reactor fuel, but also nuclear bombs. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% purity.
- Monday’s move is the most significant breach yet of Iran’s 2015 deal with world powers to end nuclear sanctions. President Trump pulled the US out of the Iran deal in May of 2018 and reinstated economic sanctions, after which Iran rolled back a number of its commitments under the deal.
- A US state department spokesperson accused Iran’s leadership of pursuing a “campaign of nuclear extortion.” But President Hassan Rouhani said he was bound by a law passed by parliament following the assassination in late November of the country’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iranian leaders blame Fakhrizadeh’s death on Israel.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran’s decision could only be viewed one way, reiterating that “Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.” (BBC)
Additional World News
- UK Judge Blocks Assange’s Extradition to US, Citing Mental Health Concerns (NYT, $)
- South Korea’s population falls for first time in its history (Guardian)
- UK Lockdown: Schools, Colleges to Close as Coronavirus Variant Rages (NYT, $)
- Study: Warming already baked in will blow past climate goals (AP)
- Saudi Arabia ‘to open airspace, land and sea border’ with Qatar (Aljazeera)
- Italian court rules against ‘discriminatory’ Deliveroo rider-ranking algorithm (TechCrunch)
- In India, Smartphones and Cheap Data Are Giving Women a Voice (Wired)
- ‘Heinous’: Israeli forces ‘killed 27 Palestinians in 2020’ (Aljazeera)
- Indian farmers to continue highway protests after talks fail (AP)
- Kuwait Says Saudi Arabia Will Reopen Borders With Qatar (NYT, $)
- Saudi Arabia, Qatar to sign U.S.-brokered deal to ease Gulf crisis (Axios)
Anyone Got 11,780 Votes Lying Around?
- In an hour-long phone call on Saturday, an angry President Trump pressured Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” almost 12,000 votes to overturn the state’s presidential election result. Trump lost the state by nearly 12,000 votes to President-elect Joe Biden.
- “The people of Georgia know that this was a scam, and because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote [in Tuesday’s runoffs],” Trump said in the remarkable call, adding: “You would be respected if this thing could be straightened out before the election.”
- Raffensperger and representatives of the Secretary of State’s office tried patiently to correct some of the more inflammatory claims made by Trump and other top Republicans who allege hundreds of thousands of votes were illegally counted. And a Georgia state attorney told the president on the call that state investigators, law enforcement, and the courts looked into claims of illegal votes and found no evidence of widespread fraud that would overturn his narrow loss.
- Trump was undeterred, saying: “All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes … because we won the state.” Trump continued railing against Raffensperger on social media Sunday, retweeting baseless claims of election fraud and stating that Georgia’s top election official was “unwilling, or unable, to answer questions” about alleged election problems in the state. (NPR)
Half-dose Vaccines… Maybe They’re BOGO?
- Government officials are in talks with manufacturers of the Moderna vaccine, suggesting that doses should be cut in half so that more people can receive shots. Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that there is evidence that two half-doses in people between the ages of 18 and 55 gives “identical immune response” to the recommended one hundred microgram dose.
- There is intensifying concern that the coronavirus vaccine distribution has been slower than expected; the Trump administration missed its initial goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. To date, just over 4 million Americans have received their first of two Covid shots, and another 13 million doses have been delivered to states. Roughly 80 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity against the virus.
- On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci cautioned that the government shouldn’t deviate from the doses and schedules used in clinical trials on the vaccines. Without directly addressing Slaoui’s suggestion, Fauci said: “We know what the science tells us. So my feeling … is let’s do it the way the clinical trials have instructed us to do it. But let’s get more efficient into getting it into people’s arms.” (Politico)
Additional USA News
- The other Georgia slugfest: a Brian Kemp-Stacey Abrams rematch (Politico)
- Ahmaud Arbery murder trial: lawyers aim to prevent court from using ‘victim’ (Guardian)
- The pandemic has changed America’s startup landscape (Axios)
- Election Day Voting in 2020 Took Longer in America’s Poorest Neighborhoods (NYT, $)
- ‘Break up the groupthink’: Democrats press Biden to diversify his tech picks (Politico)
- D.C. Police Prepare For Far-Right Protests As Congress Counts Electoral Votes (NPR)
- Dow closes down 382 points on first trading day of New Year (Aljazeera)
- Kenosha: Negligence Claims Filed Against City And County Over Fatal Shootings (NPR)
- The Democrats’ Most Effective Election Ads Did Not Feature Trump (Bloomberg)
- Alaska court to hear challenge to Arctic refuge oil leases (Aljazeera)
- Attorney: Congressional seat data not ready until February (AP)
Triumphant Mitch Smacks Down Heavyweight Competitor: Blue Whale’s Anus
- Perhaps you’ve seen the meme comparing what must be the very large size of a blue whale’s anus to another undoubtedly even bigger a-hole, Mitch McConnell. While the suggestion is most certainly uproariously funny to those of a particular political persuasion, others have curiously decided to look beyond the humor — do some fact-checking, exercise due diligence, basically answer the question: Just how big is a blue whale’s butthole, anyway?
- A biology scholar at Swarthmore College said that even though the whaling industry had killed hundreds of thousands of blue whales, nearly bringing the population to the threshold of extinction, sailors apparently never bothered to measure and record the size of the creatures’ anuses.
- The president of the American Cetacean Society, himself a Marine mammal illustrator, agrees. “The rectum or anus of whales escaped scientific scrutiny for centuries. There was — and still is — simply no interest in documenting its absolute size, or its capacity for super flatulence.” Interesting, if not particularly helpful.
- Another way to look at it: the anus is the end of a poop chute, and from an engineering perspective, the size of the anus is directed by the size of its contents. Blue whales are tiny eaters, meaning they eat by straining tiny shrimp-like krill from vast amounts of ocean water.
- Fortunately, there’s actually a lot of poop research, with a size calculator called the Bristol Stool Scale that measures from 1 (hard) to 7 (pure liquid). Can we learn something from the size of blue whale poop? A curator of fossil marine animals at the Smithsonian and author of Spying on Whales says the size of the blue whale poop he’s seen is around a 5 or 6 on the Bristol scale, kind of in the middle, really not all that big. So he estimates the opening of the animal’s anus at around 10-15 centimeters, or about the size of a large grapefruit.
- Thus, even though the blue whale is the biggest mammal on the planet, also the largest vertebrate animal that’s ever lived, the above-mentioned politician may, in fact, be the world’s biggest a-hole. (ArsTechnica)
- Why Identical Twins Are a Nightmare for the Legal System (Vice)
- The Future of Offices When Workers Have a Choice (NYT, $)
- Alaska soup kitchen gets large food donation after crash (AP)
- How the Department of Defense could help win the war on climate change (Politico)
- How the humble slime mold helped physicists map the cosmic web (ArsTechnica)
- The 1996 Law That Ruined the Internet (Atlantic, $)
- The vagina dialogues: 33-metre artwork draws far right’s ire in Brazil (Guardian)
- German pilot makes point with syringe in the sky (Reuters)
- Synchronized violin players reveal uniqueness of human networks (ArsTechnica)
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